Here are a few reasons for this.
Although we saw “political structural reform” as one of the buzz-phrases at the Congress, there was no indication that this reform would apply to communities that the People’s Republic of China proclaims as its ‘ethnic minorities.’ And, even as “scientific outlook on development” was incorporated into the Party’s Constitution, we found nothing to indicate that a “people first” spirit would be applied to Tibetans when it comes to matters relating to their destiny. A statement after the first meeting of the new Politburo on November 16, 2012, said: “The foremost political task is to concentrate the mind of the Party, the nation and people of all ethnic backgrounds onto the congress’s spirit…” But the spirit of the Congress is only to consider the economic side of the equation, namely “the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.” As the spirit of Tibetans is in crisis, with 74 confirmed incidents of self-immolation, this is a tragically narrow approach.
Another indication that Tibetans are given lesser weightage is the decrease in the number of Tibetans in the Party’s 18th Central Committee. In the past few Party Congresses, there were at least two Tibetans among the 200 plus members of the Committee. This time only one Tibetan is included. He is Pema Thinley, the current head of the Tibet Autonomous Region Government, and he was a member of the official Chinese delegation during the eighth round of discussions with the Dalai Lama’s envoys in 20087. If members of the Central Committee are ‘elected,’ then the reduced weightage it is an indication about the thinking of the majority Chinese members; if they were ‘selected,’ then it reflects the thinking of the Party itself. To be noted, there are four Tibetans who serve as alternate members in the Central Committee, the largest number we have had to date.
Speaking of representation, the most visible position that an ‘ethnic minority’ secured this time is that of being a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee. This honor is bestowed on Yang Jing, a Mongolian. He already serves as the Minister in the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and a Vice Minister of the Central United Front Work Department. Otherwise, no ‘ethnic minority’ finds a place among the deputy secretaries, or standing committee members of the 18th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection], or the 25-member Politburo, not to talk of its Standing Committee.
In his first speech as the General Secretary of the Party, Xi Jinping, on November 15, 2012, acknowledged that: “In the new situation, our Party faces many severe challenges.” However, the growing social tension, including between Chinese and Tibetans, is a reality that the Chinese leaders will have to deal with, even as Xi says, “…Chinese people have opened up a good and beautiful home where all ethnic groups live in harmony and fostered an excellent culture that never fades.”
Culturally and psychologically, too, the ‘ethnic minorities’ seem to be considered more for their token value than substance during the Congress. Much of the reference to them during this historic 18th Party Congress was about their pictorial value for their “exotic garb.”
As we witness the historic and historical development in Tibet today, including the self-immolations by Tibetans, the following statement by Xi Jinping during his acceptance speech acquires a deeper meaning. “It is the people who create history. The masses are the real heroes. Out strength comes from the people and masses.” I believe the Tibetan people are really creating history and Beijing might want to listen.
Ling Jihua, the current head of China’s Central United Front Work Department that is the key organization managing Tibetan affairs, finds a place in the Central Committee, as was the case with his predecessors. But it is interesting that Zhu Weiqun, the Executive Deputy Minister of the UFWD, who handled day to day affairs on Tibet, does not find a place in the Committee although he was a member of the 17th CPC committee. This is all the more surprising when we consider that the former head of the UFWD, Du Qinglin, is in the new Central Committee. Du is older than Zhu Weiqun (born in November 1946 while Zhu was born in 1947), indicating that age may not have been a consideration.
It remains to be seen who will oversee organizations like the China Tibetan Culture Protection and Development Association, which Beijing has set up for their soft power outreach on Tibet. Zhu Weiqun was its Vice- President and Secretary General since 2004.
In the coming months, we may see the appointment of members of the Central Tibet Work Coordination Group or the Leading Group on Tibetan affairs, and depending on their background, we might get an idea of how the party sees the Tibetan issue. In the past, security considerations seem to have dominated in the composition of membership of the Group.
In his acceptance speech, Comrade Ji Xinping concluded,“China needs to learn more about the world, and the world also needs to learn more about China.” I would add that China and the new Chinese leaders need to learn much more about the Tibetans, too.
For more please read ICT’s special report: “China’s new leadership and Tibet” >>